Artist aims to create conversations

21:48, Jun 02 2014
Cody and Joel
CHANGING MINDS: Cody and Joel by Tanu Gago. The photographer and film-maker intends his work to challenge stereotypes about Pacific people.

Pacific people are often used as "decoration" in the mainstream media, Tanu Gago says.

His latest exhibition aims to change that.

The Papatoetoe artist's images are on display this month as part of the Auckland Festival of Photography's Annual Commission.

The commission is awarded each year to an Auckland-based photographer to create a new body of work.

Gago's exhibition, Tamai'ita'i Pasifika Mao'i, is an effort to put Pacific narratives front and centre.

"I hope that the viewers get to see that Pacific experiences are being privileged in this body of work and they're not being used as decoration," he says.


The 30-year-old turned the camera on his own family members to explore ideas about Pacific femininity.

He snapped one of his nine sisters and several of his nieces in a bid to challenge stereotypes and assumptions.

"One of my models said, ‘I feel like people think we just sit around the house in huge nana dresses and hibiscus flowers in our hair'. If you look at lifestyle imagery of Pacific people that's how we're often captured," Gago says.

"In this series I've tried to exaggerate some of those features so they look a little ridiculous and out of place."

Photographing women is a departure from Gago's existing body of work, which focuses on male subjects.

Those images examine Pacific masculinity and sexuality - and they've been met with some controversy.

"I sold a work to the Mangere Arts Centre and there was a group of conservative women who made a formal complaint and said it was disgusting to see an institution promote gay marriage," Gago says.

"But when I get responses like that from my community I know it's working because I'm creating conversations with people. It's supposed to address the thing that we don't feel comfortable about."

Tamai'ita'i Pasifika Mao'i is on at Silo 6 on Jellicoe St in central Auckland until June 17. Entry is free.

Manukau Courier